Tattoo parlor requirements vary on a state-by-state basis, as there are no federal laws that cover body art or cosmetic tattoos. Each state is responsible for their own legislation. While each state may have different requirements, certain elements are common among them, including the licensing of artists, health standards, records and identification, file keeping and age laws. Most states require tattoo parlors to be licensed by the board of health, which is responsible for enforcing the laws regarding tattoo parlors.
In most regulated states, tattoo artist licensure is mandatory. The requirements for this license will vary; however, in most cases this includes certification demonstrating knowledge of aseptic tattooing technique, completion of a blood-borne pathogen safety class, first aid certification and, in some states, an apprenticeship with a licensed artist. Some states do not regulate their artists; as the industry expands, it is becoming increasingly common. States may require that an artist be licensed by either the state, county or city.
As with any occupation that deals with altering the body, strict health standards are required in a tattoo studio. In most states, laws outline the type of tools that can be used to tattoo; how those tools should be cleaned or disposed of; and how the studio itself should be cleaned and maintained. Studios may be required to have an autoclave sterilizer on hand for reusable materials, and hazardous waste collection receptacles for those that are disposable.
In many states, it is illegal for a tattoo parlor to tattoo a minor, even if parental consent is granted; however, there are exceptions. Pennsylvania and Virginia allow a minor to be tattooed in the presence of a parent or guardian. Each state or municipality regulates the age of a tattoo parlor's customers individually, and violations may be classed as a misdemeanor or other crime. Most artists will be very strict about following age laws due to the serious consequences of violations.
In conjunction with age laws, most states and towns have regulations on what kind of records must be kept by a tattoo parlor. Most places require a release form as well as some form of photo ID to be kept on file. The release form denotes that the customer has been informed of the risks of a tattoo procedure and understands that the procedure is not reversible. It may also include a clause to hold the parlor harmless in the event of complications. Most studios will only accept a state-issued photo ID card, such as a driver's license, for identification.
As of 2009, certain states, such as New Mexico, do not have any statewide regulations for tattoo parlors. Other states, such as North Dakota, regulate the equipment being used, but not the operator or studio. In these situations, you get tattooed at your own risk. Even in unregulated states, townships and municipalities may set their own laws regarding the performance of body modification. In the case of an unregulated state, it is the responsibility of the customer to select a clean, knowledgeable shop.